You are what you eat...No, really


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Popular Science magazine  may have an extremely interesting story for me to tell. As someone who adores spicy food - Mexican, Indian, whatever the origin, the spicier the better in my eyes (stomach?).  Written by Jennifer Abbasi, she proposes that a love for spicy food is no longer simply just a cultural upbringing, but draws a connection to your personality.


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She explains that in recent years, culinary psychologists (yes, they exist) have dove into the idea that there are both biological and cultural reasoning to the food we eat - spicy food in particular. Among possible reasons are elicit pain, societal norms, or even oral anatomy.  Abbasi quotes Nadia Byrnes and John Hayes both staff here at Penn State's School of Agricultural Sciences. They say that even something has obscure as chili gives off a burning sensation that is pleasant to certain people, leaving them wanting more. Byrnes and Hayes explored the chili lovers in a large study utilizing oral receptors. Their pool avoided gender and age biases and consisted of ninety-seven participants between ages 18 to 45. The participants filled out questionnaires and rated the sensations on intensity. The study concluded that there was no association between high spicy eaters and "feeling the burn" from the receptor, which may prove that personality truly does play a key role. In other words, the individuals who enjoy spicy foods don't feel the sensation less than those who don't like spicy foods, they just seem to enjoy it more.

Byrnes and Hayes don't rule out childhood exposure and education as possibilities. I personally feel it has a lot to do with open-mindedness.  For me at least, spicy foods were an acquired taste. I never really cared for them until a few years ago.  The researchers also nod to the fact that many individuals' taste buds grow and mature as time goes on.

An even more recent study  than the one mentioned above associates spicy foods with risk takers! They are seen as "sensation seekers" by the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting. This study was coincidentally done by Penn State's staff again, Nadia Byrnes and John Hayes; this time testing 200 people on their level of risk behavior and assessing their enjoyment of intense spiciness. This is an interesting test, because people raised in the United States are brought up around spicy foods, so they may be seen as risk takers. However, if this study were done in Asia this would probably be close to normal and wouldn't describe personality.


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In my mind this makes complete sense.  When I sit back and think about the people I know who love spicy food they come from culturally diverse backgrounds where spices and robust combinations of flavors reign in their home. There are also the people who are willing to try anything once, and therefore they go into eating things with a positive attitude.  

4 Comments

Hey Elizabeth!

This is a very interesting post. Not to mention, it seems to apply to me. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved eating hot and spicy foods. My personality also seems to match up with the second study you referred to because I enjoy taking risks. I get a shot of adrenaline when I know that I'm doing something with potential consequences. Hey, the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward right?

What I wonder though is whether some people "train" themselves to enjoy spicy food by building up a tolerance to it. Like I said, I started eating spicy food at a young age, so the theory seems logical.

Here's an interesting article, suggesting that tolerance to spicy food is actually genetic:

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-06/fyi-are-people-born-tolerance-spicy-food

I remember learning or reading somewhere that eating spicy food causes your pituitary gland and hypothalamus to release endorphins. Which might be why risk takers are associated with a love of spicy food because risk takers are in search of something to make the feel good

This post was very interesting. I can't remember when I started eating spicy foods, however I don't agree with those who eat spicy foods come from a diverse background. I don't believe that is true because I am not from a diverse background, but I love spicy foods. I think eating spicy foods also com from someone introducing it to you. Friends make friends try something hot and they love it! I wonder if eating spicy foods are good? Some would say its bad for you heart, but according to this article, it is good for your heart and other things. http://www.self.com/blogs/flash/2010/09/5-healthy-benefits-of-eating-s.html

Evan, I too have wondered about people "training" themselves. It's interesting how some people honestly just enjoy the burning sensation. My biggest discovery in the article would be that there might be a biological mechanism or history that could explain these holes we are both finding. Although it has yet to be discovered, this biological mechanism could answer some of our questions! I also checked out the article you linked, it's the same one I used and linked in my article. Haha Maybe you should watch this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89I9Kh9RCow. For a youtube video, it's quite scientific and it explains the facts of spicy foods.

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